But first wave of 42 schools in Priority School Building Programme to be funded through capital grant and not PFI

Education secretary Michael Gove

Education secretary Michael Gove

Michael Gove has announced that 261schools will be rebuilt or improved through the government’s priority school building programme, roughly half the number of schools that bid for funding.

In a statement to parliament today, the education secretary said 587 schools had applied for capital investment through the government’s new  £2bn Priority School Building Programme (PSBP), with 261 schools given the green light to be” rebuilt, or have their condition needs met” (see list attached, right).

Gove said work would begin “immediately” with the first schools to open in 2014.

However, Gove said that to address their “urgent” need, 42 schools in the programme – including 18 special schools - would receive capital funding in the form of a grant, rather than using the private finance initiative (PFI).

He said: “This limited capital funding has become available by taking a more disciplined approach to managing my department’s capital budgets. Savings have been made by driving down the cost of new schools, shortening procurement times and challenging contractors to look for savings in all areas. These savings mean that more schools will benefit from the programme.”

The move to delay the use of PFI in the programme comes after the government put PFI under review last year. However, ministers have previously said the PFI review would not impact on the school building programme.

Gove said: “I have previously expressed my strong support for the government’s agenda on reforming the PFI model and we are working closely with the Treasury to ensure the PSBP is aligned with this model in providing cost effective and more and more transparent delivery of services.”

The announcement on the schools that would be accepted into the PFI programme was initially expected last December but suffered a series of delays due to the high number of applicants and problems the government had with verifying the condition of the schools bidding for funding.

In his statement Gove said that in order to ensure the application process was “robust and fair a qualified surveyor has visited every school for which an eligible application was received to verify the condition of the buildings”.

“This was necessary to make sure the schools being taken forward are those with the greatest overall condition need,” he said.

Gove added: “I know that many schools will be disappointed not to be included in the programme. We have had to take difficult decisions in order to target spending on those schools that are in the worst condition.

“I recognise that many of the schools that applied to the PSBP and have been unsuccessful will also have significant condition needs. Some of those will have their needs addressed through the other funding we have made available for maintenance.

“Where that is not the case, I will use the information from the national programme of surveys we are currently conducting to ensure that, subject to funds available in the next spending review period, those schools which need renovation will have their needs addressed as quickly as possible.”

He said information from the national school building condition survey would be available “next autumn”.

Reaction to the announcement

Steve Beechey, head of education at Wates, said the announcement was a “postive step forward” the schools that were allocated funding “many of which have been holding back on education spending over the last 12 months while they awaited the results of their applications.”

“Now they know where they stand, they can release the money and effectively plan for the future,” he said.

“However, the statement is still light on the detail of how the new school buildings will be procured or the timeframes involved.

“Given that it typically takes at least two years from the time a decision is made to build a school until it is ready to open, it is essential that the government swiftly follows up today’s announcement with more information on how it intends to prioritise and group projects for delivery.

“We also shouldn’t forget the 326 schools (over half of those who applied) which have not received PSB funding. For those schools and communities who have missed out, today’s announcement will be bitterly disappointing.”

Stephen Ratcliffe, UK Contractors Group director, said: “After all the delays, today’s announcement starts to fill in the picture on the future of the school building programme.

“Contractors stand ready to start delivering these projects as quickly as possible. We urge government to proceed without delay so we can start upgrading the school network and create local employment opportunities.

“The elephant in the room remains the future of the private finance initiative. A large number of today’s schemes will be PfI financed but the fate of PfI remains unresolved.”

Nusrat Faizullah, chief executive of the British Council for School Environments, said: “It’s great to finally see that some schools, at least, will be replaced or refurbished under the Priority School Building Programme.

“It’s also good to see that schools in the very worst condition will be fast-tracked; we hope there will be a clear and simple process to ensure this happens quickly.

“But this is only a beginning. Hundreds of schools have lost out after being told by the previous government their schools will be rebuilt; they too must have their building needs addressed.

“To make the next steps a success, government must ensure it gets the very best value for money from each pound. The procurement approach will be key to make that happen - we must learn from the bureaucratic mistakes of BSF and focus on playing to the strength and skills of the school design and construction industry.

“New or refurbished schools must be built to a decent standard and built to last, or we end up storing trouble for future generations of teachers and children.”